Friday, May 18, 2018

Review of Walkway

One of the more interesting books that I've read in a while, though I can't say for sure that it was one of the best. It's a sort of novelisation of some of the techno-utopian ideas expressed by, among others, Toni Negri and Kevin Carson. I was really surprised that neither of them got a name-check in the acknowledgements at the end of the book, because it seems to me to align quite well with their ideas and I find it hard to believe that Cory Doctorow has read widely in this domain and yet not come across them. On the other hand, it's a hell of a lot easier to read than actual Negri, which I find almost impenetrable.

It depicts an anarchist utopia in the not too distant future, existing in the instersices left by the mainstream world - 'default', in the novel. The future utopians just walk away from their militarised, impoverished, impossible lives in default, to take up a place in a technology-enabled cornucopia with few rules and no government.

As one expects from utopian novels, there's a lot of explaining, with plenty of conversations about how it all works that wouldn't happen in real life. I didn't much mind that. I didn't mind the need to provide some elements of drama and narrative by having the world of default strike out at the utopians, so that there was some actual tension that's hard to account for in a utopia. There's a sub-plot in that one of the utopians is a daughter of one of the patricians (zottas, from 'zotta-rich'), and is kidnapped by mercenaries hired by her father to deprogram her; that was fine too, and it let Doctorow discuss the contradictions of a society dominated by an ever-decreasing number of super-rich.

I was a bit more bothered by the other thread, though - the anarchists manage to scan 'minds' so that people can be backed up as software, so that no-one ever needs to die. I think this is an interesting thing to explore, but I felt it was too much going on in this book. I wished he'd saved it for a different one.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Review of My Brilliant Friend

How much point is there in reviewing a literary phenomenon? I dunno. But I really enjoyed this, even though it's not the sort of thing I usually read. It helped that I read it in (and on the way to) Naples, and it was a great preparation for walking round the back streets off Via Toledo and Spaccanapoli. A very vivid evocation of the living poor in the 1950s - although Southern Italy was poorer than much of Europe, I think there'd be comparable stories from England and elsewhere.

I particularly appreciated the depiction of growing up in the shadow of a more talented/capable/beautiful friend, and the way the narrator treats the violence and oppressiveness of the way the Neapolitan men perform their masculinity.

Review of Pereira Mantains

A short, spare, beautiful book that somehow manages to feel much longer. I don't want to spoil its development for you, but I can say it's a very sensual book, even though it is written almost like a statement taken down from a witness. The colours, the feeling of the heat, the textures, the tastes of the food and drinks, and Pereira's own feelings of his obesity and his exhaustion are very vivid.

It's very clever, not least in the unusual voice which lets the plot develop despite the character's inability to understand what is happening. It's about politics, as seen through the eyes of someone that's not all that interested but is living in a police state.

Review of "Isle of Dogs"

And then, just when I couldn't face any more feel-bad films, this. I'd not rushed to see it, partly because some of the reviews were a bit lukewarm. But it was the only English-language film playing in VOSIT (version originale, subtitutlos Italian) in Torino.

And it was really, really enjoyable. A feast for the eyes and the brain, so many verbal and visual jokes, skits on language. The dogs's barks are all translated into English, but the Japanese characters speak Japanese with English subtitles - fortunately these are hard-coded on the film or we'd have had only Italian; as it was we had Japanese speak, English below and Italian below that.

I'm not even a massive dog fan (like all the villains in the film, I prefer cats) but all the dog characters are so great that I found myself looking at canine companions through new eyes.

The music and sound, and some of the political messages, are also fab. Family friendly, suitable for children but thoughtful and funny for everyone.

We watched this at a very comfortable cinema, with a huge screen and great sound, in Torino, just round the corner from the National Cinema Museum.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Review of The Florida Project

Another feel-bad film, this time about Halley, a young single mum living in a clapped-out motel in Florida, near to Disneyland and the all-inclusive resorts around it. It's full of low-paid workers and welfare recipients, scraping by in through casual work in the fast-food joints. Halley doesn't do this; she deals drugs, re-sells cheap perfume that she buys from cash-and-carry outlets, and works as an occasional prostitute using a mobile app to market herself. While she is with a customer she leaves her daughter shut in the motel room's bathroom, with the music turned up loud.

Halley's daughter, and the other motel resident kids she runs with, are the focus of the film. In some ways they have a childhood that's a bit like the golden age of running wild that older people sometimes refer to; the kids explore the entire neighbourhood more or less unsupervised. Nothing really bad happens to them, though they do set fire to a derelict motel, and are exposed to a creepy old guy who might have been about to do something abusive.

The film is very acutely observed, even though it isn't particularly moralistic or judgmental. It sets out the bleakness of American life at the near-bottom (yes, there are rungs below this one). On the other hand it's obvious that Halley is crap at life and that things will end badly for her and her daughter. Others are managing their awful and hopeless poverty better than she is, and try to keep their kids away from her daughter less they be sucked in to her way of life.Whether it'll end up any better for them is not clear.

Watched at Lansdown Film Club.

Review of "The Party"

Nice acting by favourite British character actors, well-crafted dialogue, beautifully shot in black and white in what appears to be an Islington house...a claustrophobic feel like a stage set. But I was left a bit miffed by the whole thing. It's about a group of mainly left liberal intellectuals, gathered for a celebration but then there are bombshells, skeletons revealed etc. The apparently principled people turn out to be sexually unfaithful, deceitful, hypocritical etc.

Why is only left-wing intellectuals who are fit subjects for comedy? Why aren't people who's salaries are paid by corporate-funded think-tanks also funny? Or corporate lawyers? Sure, there's a token banker in here, but he's American, and a gun-wielding coke-head, so not really much satire of bankers going on then - just an easy shot at a stereotype.

Watched in the Middle Floor at Springhill via laptop and projector.

Friday, April 27, 2018

A poem about opposites


...if cattle or horses or lions had hands and could draw,
And could sculpt like men, then the horses would draw their gods
Like horses, and cattle like cattle; and each they would shape
Bodies of gods in the likeness, each kind, of their own.


Cold, hot; true or not
Man made God in his own shape
And so shaped the world.

The name of the game;
Bilateral symmetry.
On the one hand, but…

We think the world in dyads
Two hands, ears, eyes - don’t you see?
What if we’d had three?

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Review of 'Love, Simon'

Sweet enjoyable American teen high-school rom-com, with the difference being that it's about a young man who is gay but hasn't come out to either friends or family. Very modern - lots of social media plot elements. But depicting a world in which pretty much everyone is gay-friendly - the school, the parents, the friends...for a few fleeting moments I wondered if this how the real world has now become. But then I found myself at a bus stop in the middle of a group of school kids of about the same age, and in about five seconds I heard that it hadn't.

Watched in the actual cinema (Woodford Odeon) with my Mum, who also loved the film, even though I didn't think she was that gay-friendly.

Review of 'The Bride Price' (Cat Sparks)

A collection of short stories, some previously published, by Australian sci-fi write Cat Sparks - lots of it dystopian post-apocalyptic. Not self-consciously feminist, but that way inclined, and all the better for it.

Nicely written, with several of them set in the same fictional universe; I rather wish there'd been more consistency about that, because even the ones that weren't could have been. Enjoyable all the same, and I'd happily read more by Cat Sparks.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Review of The Book Thief

Didn't like the book, didn't like the film. I don't think I learned anything, or felt anything new, about what it was like for ordinary Germans, or anti-Nazi Germans, during the Hitler period. Lots of sentimental devices...and the way in which the dialogue was in English, but with everyone speaking in Hollywood 'cherman' accents was excruciating. What possible justification is there for this...except to remind the stupidest of viewers that this is Germany?

Watched on live broadcast by Film 4.

Review of 6 Balloons

Another shortish 'issue' film - this time it's a young American woman trying to get her heroin-addicted brother into rehab, and driving him around at night with his two-year old daughter in the car. Like other drug films it's heavy on the misery and squalor of drug use. There isn't much back-story for the brother, but it does depict the way that this is happening in a normal middle-class family; in fact the first ten minutes or so is a bit dull in that it grinds over the mechanics of preparations for a backyard birthday party - in so much detail that I almost gave up watching. In retrospect this was necessary, but...

Watched on Netflix.

Review of The Silent Child

A short (20 minutes), Oscar-winning film about a deaf child in a middle-class family, who is not treated with much compassion and understanding by her not-unkind but busy parents.

It's polemical and very well done - almost made me think 'why can't all films be this short and acute?'

The busy-ness of the motheris acidly depicted. Although it's very short, the film doesn't feel hurried at all, and there are some very clever short portraying of time passing and the developing relationship between the BSL-using language therapist and the child.

There were things I didn't much like. The busy mother is definitely presented as responsible person, if not the actual villain, of the film; she's the one who is inappropriately busy, she's the one who makes (or at any rate communicates) the bad decision to stop the therapist from continuing to teach the child to sign...and there is some suggestion that there is a relationship (divine punishment?) between the child's deafness and her marital infidelity. In some ways it's a very modern film with a very 1950s sub-text. It's noticeable, too, that though this is an 'ordinary' family, wanting to prepare their child for an ordinary local school, the house that they live in is practically a mansion.

But it's a good and powerful film, with a really strong message that is effectively conveyed.

Watched on BBC iPlayer.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Review of 'Hegemony How-To: A road map for radicals' by Jonathan Smucker

A nice, thoughtful book about strategy for socialists - well, he says 'radicals' in the title but he's mainly for self-described socialists. I think too much of it reads like it was written with one eye on an academic audience - he uses a lot of theoretical language, which I don't mind in principle but feel it doesn't add much. I liked the personal bits best. I'm also not sure how relevant it is to a UK audience. I think our left doesn't have a problem with the idea of hegemony, or of power, but has really bad ideas about how to achieve it. This book seems to be mainly an argument with the anarchists of Occupy, trying to persuade them that it's OK to organise to win things, and ultimately to win power; not such an issue here.

Review of 'Night of the Iguana'

A 1960s classic with Richard Burton, Ava Gardner and a rather fab Deborah Kerr. I'd never seen it before, and it's great - based on a short story and then a play by Tennessee Williams, the script is wonderful, the acting great. It seems to cross genres, starting off as social comedy and ending up as a something more thoughtful. Near the end one of the characters completes a poem on which he has been working for the last years of his life, and then dies - and it seems to me to have been a good poem, worth the wait.

In general it feels surprisingly modern, especially in its depiction of Ava Gardner's post-sexual relationship with her husband, and her rather more sexual relationship with two maracas-playing young Mexican men. The representation of these two Mexicans, and the others at a beachside bar, verges on the stereotypical, but it didn't spoil the fim for me.

Watched via Chromestream and Chromecast, after obtaining through informal distribution.

Review of 'Mute'

A rather good, creepy science fiction film set in a near-future Berlin, which is rather well depicted. Lots of violence - it's set in a demi-monde of nightclubs and gangsters, and two of the main characters are former US military torturers who learned their trade in Kabul. But it didn't feel gratuitous to me, or that kind of comic-book knockabout violence that some films have where nobody really seems to get hurt. On the contrary the violence is mainly terrifying.

Curiously this felt and looked quite similar to the Amazon Prime original 'Altered Carbon', set much further into the future, though I think this was better. I liked it more because it was a one-off, and the near-future scenario felt more plausible.

Definitely worth watching, but not for the faint-hearted; I had to watch some of it through my fingers.

It's a Netflix original, and one of the few good films that I've watched on Netflix for a while.